The city of Wittenberg contains a Judensau (Jew-Pig) from 1305, on the facade of the Stadkirche, the church where Martin Luther preached. It portrays a rabbi who looks under the sow’s tail, and other Jews drinking from its teats. An inscription reads “Rabini Shem hamphoras,” gibberish which presumably bastardises “shem ha-meforasch” (“The fully pronounced Name [of God]). The sculpture is one of many still remaining in Germany.
In Vom Schem Hamphoras (1543), Luther comments on the Judensau sculpture at Wittenberg, echoing the antisemitism of the image and locating the Talmud in the sow’s bowels:
Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, as though he were reading something acute or extraordinary, which is certainly where they get their Shemhamphoras.
The sculpture continues to cause offence and defame Jewish people and their faith. It needs to be removed to another location so it is not publicly displayed on the external wall of the church, and properly housed and explained elsewhere. Otherwise Jewish people continue to experience the antisemitic power of such an abusive image, and their worst fears about the nature of the Christian faith are confirmed. If the Church is truly repentant over such images, it must take steps to remove them from such prominent display.
Not only is the sculpture an insult to Jewish people, but it offends common decency by its lewd portrayal of Jews suckling a pig and putting a hand up its rump. It also is an affront to a place of Christian worship which should be decorated with dignity and decorum, not obscenity and shocking anti-semitic images.
The Wittenberg Judensau continues to offend as a powerful and vivid portrayal of hate speech and antisemitism. The attempt to address this by placing an explanation and commemorative plaque beneath the sculpture in 1988 by sculptor Wieland Schmiedel beneath it is insufficient. The explanation states:
The true name of God, the maligned Chem Ha Mphoras which Jews long before Christianity regarded as almost unutterably holy, this name died with six million Jews, under the sign of the Cross.
We appreciate the fact that the church decided to do something to explain and express regret, but do not believe God died in the Holocaust, and this is again an improper use of the name of God.
In 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s launching of the Protestant Reformation, it is time to remove this statue and replace it with something more honouring to the God of Israel, respectful of the Jewish people, and bringing dignity to a Christian place of worship instead of retaining a sculpture that is unseemly, obscene, insulting, offensive, defamatory, libellous, blasphemous, anti-semitic and inflammatory.
By Dr. Richard Harvey
Find out more at: Remove the Wittenberg Judensau